This is the third disc by John Jeffreys (b1937) issued on the Divine Art label. Yet where the two earlier discs concentrated on the many songs that this Welsh composer has written, this latest issue covers more varied ground, starting with a recording of Jeffrey’s delightful Serenade
for Strings, lively if all too brief. It is conducted by the composer’s friend, the late Kenneth Page, subject of one of the elegies included later, Elegy for a Conductor.
Jeffreys unashamedly adopts a conservative idiom that would have been recognised as congenial by any Georgian composer of half a century earlier, such as Gurney or Howells, and that covers not only the songs but the instrumental pieces, four of them with the Philharmonia Orchestra or sections of it conducted by Paul Bateman. The principal soloist is the excellent baritone Jonathan Veira, firm and dark in tone, who responds to the enigmatic words of Poem for End setting by Ivor Gurney towards the end of his life.
Jeffreys’s response as in the rest is most sensitive, as it is even for his bold setting of the medieval Lyke Wake Dirge , bold when Britten’s setting of these words in the Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings is so unforgettable. Jeffrey’s setting is for baritone with Shelley Katz providing the piano accompaniment, responding to the florid style of Jeffrey’s writing. Like Britten’s setting it is firmly metrical with striking crescendo, but the rise and fall is far less well controlled, and one seriously wonders whether the composer had ever heard the Britten version.
The other song with piano is “Sweeney the Mad” setting the translations by the playwright John O’Keefe telling of Irish Sweeney’s feud with the Abbot of St Ronan Finn. The saint cursed him to wander the Irish hills for ever. Jeffreys’s response is to make it a heartfelt cry for help. The other item is Toby’s Dream and Elegy , a bizarre little collection of nine very brief piano pieces, a worthwhile addition to this very varied collection, offered in clear, well-balanced sound.